Bright Side of Business: Firehouse Subs franchisees rally community support for first responders

Having grown up with a firefighter father, it’s no surprise that Denis Charbonneau followed in his dad’s footsteps, volunteering as a firefighter for the City of Ottawa for 20 years. 

Charbonneau has also been a football coach and had a career in trophy engraving but, since the pandemic, he’s taken his career in a new direction. He is now trying his hand at food entrepreneurship with the opening of a Firehouse Subs franchise. 

Charbonneau recently launched his Orléans store with Firehouse Subs serial franchisee Pradip Patel. The move seemed almost inevitable. 

Patel explains that, once a week, Charbonneau would come into his restaurant to grab a meal. “I said, ‘Would you stop coming in and buy yourself a restaurant?’” Patel jokes. 

And so that was exactly what Charbonneau did. The two joined forces and now, 18 months later, their Orléans business is thriving. 

Headquartered in the U.S., Firehouse Subs is a restaurant chain serving hot gourmet sub sandwiches. In 2005, the chain’s founders established a Public Safety Foundation, providing funding, lifesaving equipment and education to first responders and public safety organizations. 

$2.2M raised across Canada

Since 2015, more than 50 Firehouse Subs restaurants have opened in Canada, with the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada awarding more than $2.2 million to public safety organizations. Patel brought the chain to Ottawa in 2017 and has been giving back to the community through his fundraising efforts ever since.

Fundraising is something that’s near and dear to Charbonneau’s heart. As a firefighter, he raised money for various causes, including muscular dystrophy. 

“Giving back to the community and helping others is a big part of my life,” he says. 

Most recently, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation granted more than $82,000 to the Ottawa Fire Services, Russell Fire Department and the Township of East Hawkesbury Fire Department. All the money was raised through Firehouse Subs customers. 

“Food is the main part of the business, but every time a customer comes in, (we ask them to) round up,” Patel says. “That’s what’s saving lives every time. That 50 cents might mean nothing to you, but it’s huge for the community.” 

To show the community exactly how huge its contributions are, Charbonneau, Patel and two other franchise owners, Sunita Thapa and Aswin Selvaraj, hosted an event on Sept. 17 displaying the equipment that had been purchased, from thermal equipment to drones. 

“It really drove it home for the guests,” Patel says. 

As well as rounding up customers’ totals, Patel and Charbonneau raise money for the community through a collection box at the cash register and by running events like First Responders’ Month in October. 

Five years after opening his first franchise, Patel and his team have raised $315,000 for the city of Ottawa, including fundraising for an ATV for the Ottawa-Gatineau search-and-rescue team at Rockcliffe Airport. 

Looking ahead, Patel is setting his sights on opening his fifth franchise in Kanata with Charbonneau, Thapa and Selvaraj, as well as working on fundraising, of course. 

“All we want to do is support our community by being there for it,” Patel says.